Pop Psych

Unpacking evolutionary psychology

What Makes Incest Morally Wrong?

What makes people care about whether siblings they don't personally know have sex? Read More

Also in The Red Queen, Matt

Also in The Red Queen, Matt Ridley mentions that cousin intermarriage was probably outlawed because it allowed family alliances to grow too strong and threaten the state. The problem of lethal recessive genes isn't really such a problem when you get to cousins.

The morality part of it isn't an issue on the level of immediate family - nature keeps us from lusting after our parents or our siblings. But past that level, into extended family, it may be a relatively new concept that it's immoral to marry your cousin.

Einstein married his cousin, and I think if you look back in history you will see that cousin marriages didn't used to be taboo.

Consensensual Incest it Not Wrong

An aversion became common in humans that aided in population growth as one disease couldn't wipe out the human race. That's not a problem anymore. Therapists tend to deal with the "problem" cases, not all of the ones where people are happy together or had a fling that was either a positive or at least not a negative experience. The Westermarck Effect is NOT experienced by all people raised together, and genetic relatives who were not raised together often experience an intense attraction when introduced/reunited.

There is no rational reason for keeping laws or taboos against consensual incest that is consistently applied to other relationships. Personal disgust or religion is only a reason why one person would not want to personally engage in what I call consanguinamory, not why someone else shouldn't do it. An adult should be free to share love, sex, residence, and marriage with ANY consenting adults. Youthful experimentation between close relatives close in age is not uncommon, and there are more people than you'd think out there who are in lifelong healthy, happy relationships with a close relative. It isn't for everyone, but we're not all going to want to have each others' love lives, now are we? If someone thinks YOUR love life is disgusting, should you be thrown in prison?

Some people try to justify their prejudice against consanguineous sex and marriage by being part-time eugenicists and saying that such relationships inevitably lead to “mutant” or “deformed” babies. This argument can be refuted on several fronts. 1. Some consanguineous relationships involve only people of the same gender. 2. Not all mixed-gender relationships birth biological children. 3. Most births to consanguineous parents do not produce children with significant birth defects or other genetic problems; while births to other parents do sometimes have birth defects. 4. We don’t prevent other people from marrying or deny them their reproductive rights based on increased odds of passing along a genetic problem or inherited disease. It is true that in general, children born to consanguineous parents have an increased chance of these problems than those born to nonconsanguineous parents, but the odds are still minimal. Unless someone is willing to deny reproductive rights and medical privacy to others and force everyone to take genetic tests and bar carriers and the congenitally disabled and women over 35 from having children, then equal protection principles prevent this from being a justification to bar this freedom of association and freedom to marry.

Some say "Your sibling should not be your lover." That is not a reason. It begs the question. Many people have many relationships that have more than one aspect. Some women say their sister is their best friend. Why can’t their sister be a wife, too?

Some say “There is a power differential.” This applies least of all to siblings or cousins who are close in age, but even where the power differential exists, it is not a justification for denying this freedom to sex or to marry. There is a power differential in just about any relationship, sometimes an enormous power differential. To question if consent is truly possible in these cases is insulting and demeaning.

Some say “There are so many people outside of your family." There are plenty of people within one’s own race, too, but that is no reason to ban interracial marriage. So, this isn't a good reason either. Let consenting adults love each other the way they want!

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • You may quote other posts using [quote] tags.

More information about formatting options

Jesse Marczyk, M.A., is a Ph.D. student at New Mexico State University; he studies evolutionary psychology and writes the blog Pop Psychology: The Internet's evolutionary psycholo-guy.

more...

Subscribe to Pop Psych

Current Issue

Dreams of Glory

Daydreaming: How the best ideas emerge from the ether.